Trying to predict what’s going to happen in tomorrow night’s Jets-Colts game is, well, kind of like trying to predict the New York Jets during the regular season. Which team is going to show up? The team that averaged a whopping 29.1 points in 12 games this year or the team that was held without a touchdown in four other games? The team that spotted the New England Patriots a 14-0 lead then zapped them 28-0 the rest of the way at the Meadowlands or the team that failed to show up on offense or defense in the rematch at Foxboro?
The Jets, on paper at least, are a better team this year than last, with an 11-5 record to last seasons’ 9-7. Despite being held to a ridiculous 18 points in four losses this year, they scored more points, 367, in 2010 than in 2009, 348.The big difference, of course, is defense: Gang Green finished last year allowing just 336 points and by playoff time had the best defense, by consensus, in the league. This year they allowed 304 points, and no one knows that to expect.
One break for New York is probably that they’re playing in Indianapolis. The Colts were a better team at home, 6-2 (5-5) on the road, but the Jets were better on the road, 6-2, than at home, 5-3.
Some things to consider:
Two of Peyton Manning’s best receivers won’t be playing tomorrow, including his great tight end, Dallas Clark, and probably wide-out Austin Collie.
The Colts have had a real problem this year coming from behind when trailing in the fourth quarter. (They lost 6 of 8 when they found themselves behind in the final period.)
This years Colts rare really hamstrung with injuries to their defensive secondary and gave up 30 or more points five times this season. Strong safety Aaron Francisco is a third-stringer and thus should be ripe for the Jets to pick on.
The Jets also have also lost a first string safety to injuries, Jim Leonhard, but are in better shape on the whole than the Colts.
The likelihood is that New York, which leads the NFL on percentage of plays run on the ground on first down, will have success striking through the air on the early downs when the Colts don’t know what’s coming. This means, pretty much, that it’s going to be Mark Sanchez’s game to win or lose. And for once I’ve got to give Mike Lupica the nod for his analysis in today’s Daily News.
“You can talk about the plays the defense made that day” – in their 22-17 victory over the Steelers on December 19 – “but if Sanchez doesn’t show up in big moments, in the second half especially, his team has no chance.”
Tomorrow against the colts and possibly through the rest of the playoffs, the Jets are going to live or die on Mark Sanchez’s maturity.